On Location: Cruising Through Antarctica With an Expedition Team Member

On Location: Cruising Through Antarctica With an Expedition Team Member

It won’t be long before Zaandam and Prinsendam return to cruising the incredible waters of Antarctica. A visit to the world’s most remote continent is a once-in-a-life journey for most, and Holland America Line ensures that every guests’ experience is as enriched and fulfilling as possible.

To enhance a visit to Antarctica, Holland America Line had a special “Expedition Team” onboard both ships’ Antarctica cruises this year as part of the “On Location” onboard enrichment program. The teams, composed of world-renowned Antarctica experts, mingled with guests, gave history, geology and zoology presentations and scenic cruising commentary, hosted question-and-answer sessions and lead marine animal and bird watching encounters.

Christopher J. Wilson, a member of Zaandam’s expedition team, blogged about his three cruises. Here are some highlights of his posts, and all of the photos in the post were taken by him during his voyages.

Dec. 22, 2014 – Jan. 10, 2015
My third season with Holland America Line’s m/s Zaandam commenced with yet another quite excellent taste of the delights of the Antarctic and South American continents. Travelling to Antarctica is something so few have the privilege to avail of and yet once visited, it is never forgotten. How to convey the feelings experienced when visiting Antarctica defeats everyone – Yes one can share photographs and film, talk, discuss, ponder and pontificate, but the only real way is to experience oneself. Those visiting Antarctica are amazed by the shear awesome beauty of this austere and, as yet, un-spoilt continent. Thankfully with the Antarctic Treaty in place this continent is still owned by no-one, but shared by all. Most find that once visited the desire to return becomes a real passion. I strongly believe that the responsibility of those who visit Antarctica is to become true Ambassadors for the preservation of this, the last truly un-spoilt continent in this world of ours.

Humpback Whale

We spotted a humpback whale.

On Monday 22nd December we joined the ship in Valparaiso – lots of birds feeding in the harbour including Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies – an Inca Tern being a definite bonus. We sailed that evening – Sooty Shearwaters and Red Phalaropes in good numbers. On Tuesday the 23rd we were at sea on our way south. Weather was good and sightings steady with quite a few Northern Royal Albatrosses seen as well as the odd Salvin’s Albatross and good numbers of Masateirra Petrels. An excellent view of a Sperm Whale was a distinct bonus.

On Thursday 25th, Christmas Day, we were in Puerto Castro, Chiloe Island – great day with a visit to the brightly coloured church – purple and gold – that dominates the town from its high vantage spot (originally painted in these colours for the visit of Pope John-Paul II).


An iceberg, glacier and colorful church.

Thursday 1st January — A Very Happy New Year – and another beautiful day in ‘The Drake Lake’ – so uncharacteristic, beautiful conditions and rewards galore with excellent whale sightings including 2 Arnoux’s Beaked Whales (they were just MAGIC) noted whilst Fin Whales were blowing in profusion – well at least 12 of them. The weather continued in the same vein with Friday 2nd being ‘another beautiful day’. Staff from Palmer Scientific Station were delivered whilst another group came on board and provided lectures to passengers. Whilst this was taking place we moved on towards, and down to, the Lemaire Channel. The ice was spectacular and with our luck holding we were able to proceed south through the Channel – yes some high cloud did block off views of the peaks, but the scenery was stunning – our furthest south was reached.

wandering albatross

A wandering Albatross

Thursday 8th, our second day at sea heading for Punta del Este, with yet another beautiful day – calm seas, blue skies and excellent wildlife sightings – how did we do it! The bonus must have been the two Southern Bottlenose Whales that were on the surface close to the ship.

Saturday 10th a day in Montevideo and then it’s onto Buenos Aires – our final destination and the m/s Zaandam’s first cruise of the Antarctic Season complete – ‘a real cracker’.

Jan. 14 – 29, 2015
First stop after leaving Buenos Aires was Montevideo on Tuesday 13th January. Here, on the way into the harbour, an Olrog’s Gull was seen and the ship’s overnight stowaway a Picui Ground-dove flew off from its comfortable roost at the rear of the ship. A really excellent wildlife sightings day took place on Wednesday 14th January with the crossing of the Continental Shelf taking place first thing in the morning – large pods of dolphins and superb quantities of all sorts of bird species. Sightings continued through the day but not as spectacular as those displays of the early morning.

Saturday 17th we were at sea heading south in strong winds and again some good bird sightings took place during the course of the day. On Sunday 18th we arrived at Elephant Island – flat calm seas, stunning views and whales all around us – it was a truly magical experience and certainly the calmest that any of us on board (including the Expedition Team) had experienced at this location. From Elephant Island we headed south, round a tabular iceberg and on to Admiralty Bay at King George Island. Here we enjoyed more whale sightings and wildlife encounters. It started to snow as we left the bay and continued our journey south arriving at Deception Island in the evening to again calm seas and delightful views of the island and wildlife in the evening sun. On Monday 19th we arrived at Cuverville Island early and spent time enjoying the sights and smells of Antarctica’s largest rookery of Gentoo Penguins (not easily seen, but there were a lot of 1- to 4-day old chicks under the nesting Gentoo Penguins). Lots of sightings and the early morning Snow Petrel was a distinct bonus. We made it through the Errera Channel and cruised down Andvord Bay before entering Paradise Harbour – another flat calm and beautiful morning with some delightful sightings.


Great Shearwater and Manx Shearwater

Friday 23rd found us in Ushuaia for the morning and then cruising the Beagle Channel in the afternoon. It was one of those stunning blue sky days that happen approximately four times a year in Ushuaia – no wind, spectacular clarity and breathlessly beautiful. Saturday 24th we were in Punta Arenas for the day – and another really beautiful day. Visited the Nao Victoria site where the replicas of the Victoria ship (from the Magellan Circumnavigation), Ancud ship (sent by Chile to claim the Straights of Magellan), James Caird (the lifeboat that Shackleton travelled in from Elephant Island to South Georgia) and the Beagle ship (that Darwin travelled in) are displayed. The Beagle is already up to deck level – a superb project and so worth the visit. Sunday 25th we were in the Chilean Fjords for the day – bright and clear though cloudy – a good day with plenty of sightings.

Thursday 29th we were at sea all day travelling north to Valparaiso – our 2nd Cruise is all but over. Another ‘GREAT’ cruise. Next up is Cruise Three.

Jan. 31 – Feb. 15, 2015

Saturday 31st January saw us back at sea on the first day out of Valparaiso. The weather was beautiful with blue skies and warm sunshine and sightings were steady with lots of people being interested in the bird and dolphin sightings.

Tuesday 3rd was our first day cruising the Chilean Fjords and the weather continued to hold. Some beautiful views of the Tempanos Glacier and our sightings continued unabated.


Feeding time for the orcas

Saturday 7th saw us at Cape Horn in the morning and then into a Drake that caressed the ship with care and understanding. There were a lot of highlights not only being able to cruise round ‘The Horn’, but also plenty of excellent wildlife sightings during the afternoon. Noting at least two Wandering Albatrosses with marked blue band across the breast was an additional bonus – this at 16.45pm 60 miles south of Cape Horn (1945pm GMT) – especially being able to notify Alastair Wilson on Bird Island, South Georgia of the news almost immediately after the sighting – and naturally that news being warmly received. These additional sighting bonuses just add to the quality and fun of these cruises.

Saturday 14th found us at sea travelling due north with a delightful day of sunshine and calm seas. Some good sightings were had throughout the day and the weather held beautifully. Sunday 15th we were again at sea with arrival at Montevideo scheduled for early tomorrow morning. Another delightful day with no wind and clear skies. Sightings were there, but slow – plenty of good birds seen though the course of the day. What a great cruise and in fact season. Our third and final Holland America Line Antarctic Cruise for the 2014/15 season is complete – Antarctica is as awesomely beautiful as ever – roll on that next visit.


Bird Island marked Wanderer 60 miles from Cape Horn and a Magellanic Oystercatcher.

About Christopher J. Wilson
Christopher J. Wilson FZS is the great nephew of Dr. Edward A. Wilson who died with Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party during their return from the South Pole expedition in 1912. He is widely traveled, having spent time on all the continents of the world, and has completed nine full seasons in Antarctica, having first traveled there in 1999 to participate in an Antarctic circumnavigation.

A highly respected ornithologist with over 35 years of bird-banding experience in Ireland, the U.K. and Australia, Wilson includes in his scientific accomplishments the organization of staff and volunteers in numerous ornithological surveys of national and international significance. He regularly contributes to a variety of wildlife magazines, makes radio and television programs, and is an accomplished photographer, contributing to numerous wildlife books. His own publications include: “High Skies – Low Lands, An Anthology of The Wexford Slobs and Harbour”; “Wildfile – A Guide to Irish Wildlife”; “Wildlife Quiz and Amazing Facts Book”; “Edward Wilson’s Nature Notebooks”; “The Lepidoptera of County Wexford” and “Edward Wilson’s Antarctic Notebooks.”

You can read the full entries at his website www.wildside.ie.

To read more about Holland America Line’s Expedition Teams click on this previous blog post.


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  1. Alex H Hopkin July 27, 2015 at 10:43 am - Reply


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